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Technological Change & Cultural Transformation

Technological Change & Cultural Transformation

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Published by Kelly Foss
This paper concerns the connections between technology and culture (i.e. Communication Scholar Harold Innis' claim: "Structure of conciousness parallel structures of communication technologies")
This paper concerns the connections between technology and culture (i.e. Communication Scholar Harold Innis' claim: "Structure of conciousness parallel structures of communication technologies")

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Published by: Kelly Foss on Dec 14, 2007
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11/18/2012

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Technological Change & CulturalTransformation
Is
 free will 
a subject of the imagination? Does communication media drivehuman behaviour? Is human culture merely a technological construct? Or, do humanshave the ability to think for themselves? According to communication theorists, HaroldInnis and Marshall McLuhan, communication media shape human culture. Their argument omits the idea that individuals have the power to act and think for themselves.Innis was the first to justify this theory by analyzing society before and after electroniccommunication media. In doing so, he discovered that every new electronic technologyhas the ability to re-shape society. McLuhan explained that cultural change occurs because different qualities exist between communication technologies. McLuhanidentified and compared the qualities of the television to previous communicationtechnologies such as books and radio. As a result, he discovered that
television
had newqualities that could re-shape culture. This led McLuhan to confirm that every newcommunication media will cause cultural change. This theory continues to be supportedtoday. Had Innis and McLuhan lived through the present day, they would have viewedthe World Wide Web (WWW) as the next communication medium to re-shape culture.By exploring the evidence behind Innis and McLuhan’s theory concerning technologicalcontrol over human culture, one can predict that today’s society is driven by the valuesand principles encouraged by the WWW.1
 
Innis was the first to claim that communication media have the ability to shape asociety. Innis argued
“structures of consciousness parallel structures of communication”
(1951). Here, Innis claims that a new culture is brought into existencewith every new communication technology. To illustrate this, he formed two cultural biases: temporal and spatial. A temporally biased culture signified the society of thetribal age, while a spatially biased culture represented a society driven by electroniccommunication media. These two biases represented the two human cultures that weredivided by different communication media: traditional vs. electronic. The temporalculture was driven by traditional means of communication media such as speech, drums,canoes, and dance. It was a time-based society characterized by small, personal, andclose-knit communities. With the rise in electronic communication media, the value of 
community
declined as technologies such as books and newspapers promoted a newimportance of 
individual activity
and a greater focus on
the self 
. This radical shift is whatmade Innis discover the diversity of technological influence (Carey 1989).Innis’ discovery of the
cultural shift 
helped him to confirm that every newcommunication medium has the ability to physically re-shape the human culture. Tofurther prove that the medium shapes the minds of its users, McLuhan went into depthabout how this occurs. McLuhan argued,
“the medium is the message”
(41). Here, hereinforces Innis’ claim that communication media have the ability to transform amessage. He outlines that when a message is sent via a medium, a process of mediationoccurs which reshapes the message. Mediation allows transmission and the exchange of information in the process of sending and receiving. Thus,
the message
is changed via2
 
technological control. To exemplify this theory, McLuhan suggested how the media used by artists such as drawing/painting tools and or colours have control over the significanceof an artwork. As drawings and paintings create different forms, and colours signifydifferent moods, a variety of messages transpire (McLuhan 2001).Since Innis and McLuhan lived in different time periods, they analyzed differentcultural shifts. Whereas Innis compared the culture of the acoustic age (temporal culture)to the print culture (spatial culture), McLuhan compared the print culture to the televisionage. McLuhan attempted to prove that television supports the idea of technologicaldeterminism (1984). Like Innis, McLuhan used the spatial society as one of hisvariables, though he re-names the culture in his own terms. He refers to Innis’ spatialsociety as the
literate culture (print culture),
to illustrate that it was an age of reading andwriting. Following the age of print, he believed the television shaped a new electronic
oral/aural culture (television culture)
.McLuhan’s
television culture
may seem like an attempt to construct a third cultureto Innis’ cultural biases, however, he argued that the television culture is rather a step back to the values and traditions of a temporally biased society (Griffin 1997). Hediscovered that the television culture is shaped by similar values as the communicationmedia that shaped Innis’ temporal culture, as it also valued participation and community.Unlike, Innis’ spatial culture where individual activity and one’s self were of highimportance, McLuhan explained that the television culture was marked by a renewedvalue of tribalism and group activity. He stated,
“we are re-tribalizing, involuntarily
3

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